Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Legend of God's Gun (2007)

I am not usually a fan of movies that are purposely made so bad that they are painful and frustrating to watch. Movies that are bad due to budget constraints are a different matter. I am not a fan of spoofs or silliness without some sort of purpose. I felt that this movie was just terrible while I was watching it. Well, part of me still does. I know I won’t watch it again. But the sincere forward by Brent De Boar of the Dandy Warhols made me try to look at it in a different light. So, that being said, and the relatively small number of people I could find who had ever seen the thing, made me decide to go ahead and write something up about it.

The movie was inspired by the band Spindrift’s 2005 album The Legend of God’s Gun. Spindrift is a “psychedelic western band” who appears to be very theatrical and sincere in their attempts to bring traditional western movie music into the present with the help of the Dandy Warhols’ record label. Their music appears on the movie, as well as music from the Low-Flying Owls (the band of Mike Bruce who plays the Sheriff and who wrote the screenplay, directed, and edited the movie).

The story is a bit hard to decipher amid the chaos going on on-screen, but here it is in a nutshell: The Gunslinger (Robert Bones who has nothing else listed on his IMDB page) is forced to watch his wife being raped and killed and in his grief, repents and becomes a preacher, bent on bringing hellfire and damnation to the men who took his life away.

His target is El Sobero, a descendant of a worshiper of the Scorpion King, who has passed down the ability of drinking scorpion venom in order to make one invincible to his progeny. El Sobero is overacted by Kirpatrick Thomas, guitarist and singer for Spindrift. He is hypothetically of Hispanic blood, but his accent only peeks out in small and stereotypical ways. El Sobero and his wicked bandito followers have conveniently had their horses shot by the Sheriff of Playa Diablo, a very sinful town drinking, whoring, and necrophilia-ing itself to an early grave. The budget, therefore, had no need to factor in the cost of animals and animal upkeep and handlers. How you can have a western with no horses, I don’t know, but they did.
In a burst of serendipity, The Gunslinger, now The Preacher, is on his way to Playa Diablo about the same time the banditos led by El Sobero are on their way to Playa Diablo to get revenge for their dead horses. Also heading to Playa Diablo is a bounty hunter, who also had the misfortune of having his horse shot down and is on foot, dragging the body of one of El Sobero’s comrades to take in for a reward from the Sheriff of Playa Diablo.

Hijinks ensue.

Did someone attempt authenticity in the costumes? Who knows? At least ¾ of the clothes appeared to have come off the sale rack at a JCPenney in Arizona. The rest could have been sewn up quickly from a Simplicity pattern called “Generic cloak”.

Few of the actors have anything on their resumes other than the ones who were in bands.  The narrator, Joseph Campanella, was the only exception.  He had an IMDB listing of around 200 mostly television efforts such as The Rockford Files and The Bold and the Beautiful, dating back to 1952.

The members of Spindrift and Low-Flying Owls of course.  And Sally Fay Dalton who plays one of the insignificant females, and is from some show that I have never heard of but am extremely intrigued by the fact that it even exists, called Cookin’ with Coolio.  She had the esteemed job of “sauce girl”. She was featured on 5 episodes including “Soul Rolls”, “Fall Off the Bone Chicken”, and “Cool-a-Cado”.
The music was not too terrible on hindsight. I mean it isn’t something I would enjoy just listening to, but on a movie it was alright. Although they could have benefited from the adage that “a little goes a long way”. The soundtrack was relentless. There was not a second that I did not feel bombarded by the fact that there was music in the movie. Even worse, there is a part where the movie breaks down into a music video of a very overly dramatic, self-important song that doesn’t really make any sense, complete with a goth angel with black wings standing in the distance.

The music wasn’t the only sound grating on the nerves. The filmmakers decided that authenticity would be created by the addition of the sound of an old reel-to-reel continuously beneath the cacophony of everything else.

The appearance of the movie was also noisy. It looked as if someone took the film and used it as a first experiment with the free version of Windows Movie Maker, throwing in every effect possible to make the movie look old. The color was often blinding to simulate heat and desert. Even the makeup was atrocious, often having faces painted very red to make the person appear hot, while the rest of him was just normal colored.

Was all this meant to be over the top? Perhaps, but it was a bit too over the top for my taste.

Mike Bruce was apparently pleased with his feedback on the film, because he has written, directed, and edited yet another film titled The Treasure of the Black Jaguar, due to be released soon. I, for one, will not be checking it out.
I’m not sure if I feel comfortable recommending this movie to anyone. If you’re into the sort of camp that includes non-actors acting badly, overuse of cheap effects, and unrelenting music, go for it. It’s interesting to see what can be done with….oh hell. I don’t know. See if it you want to.  See it because it has a character called Necro Man.  Bet you don't see that in many westerns.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Call of Cthulhu (2005)

A friend told me about this little gem of a movie. As a Lovecraft fan I was so surprised that I had never heard of it. Finding out that it was made by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society was even more of a treat. They were going to make a real Lovecraft movie, rich with all the elements of the mythos. Made as a silent movie on 1920s film stock, the film could not have been a better tribute to the story.

In the beginning of our tale, Great Cthulhu lies dreaming in the sunken city of R’lyeh, waiting for the stars to be right so that he can return….or does he?

We follow our hero who has set himself on a quest to discover the key to a strange cult being investigated by his now deceased great-uncle. The uncle, a psychiatrist, had a chance encounter with an artifact 17 years before his death and became obsessed with finding out the meaning of the strange statue and the words “Cthulhu fha’tgn”. In 1925 a young patient came to his office complaining of terrible dreams and voices calling, “Cthulhu fha’tgn”.

Consumed by the same secrets that contributed to his uncle’s death, our hero sets out on journey that takes him all over the world. We follow him as he is drawn into the nightmares, the tragic demises, and the devastating discoveries of a world beneath our own.
Full of Lovecraftean prose and rich with all the trappings of a true Cthulhu tale (artifacts, newspaper clippings, old diaries, crazed cultists, Cyclopean cities, and vivid nightmares), the tale finally enters the great sea and the maddening landscape of R’lyeh itself.

Andrew Leman, a self-proclaimed Lovecraft fanatic, directed the film and was responsible for a large portion of the brilliant use of props. Fellow Cthulhu expert, Sean Branney, adapted the story for the screen. Practically everyone on the cast and crew were novices to movie making. This adds to the enthusiasm everyone had for the project, even those who knew nothing of the Lovecraft mythos previously.
The special features on the DVD are longer than the feature film and just as interesting. Along with the trailer, there are interviews with the cast and crew, and some scenes shown in their original form, in color and with speaking. The film makers are very witty and interesting and their excitement in their project is contagious. After watching, I wanted to go back and watch the movie again.

Made to have the appearance of a 1920s era adventure, CoC (*giggle* I get to use that abbreviation in a non-role playing medium) uses as much of the technology that was around at that time as they could, only using modern conveniences such as green screens when there was no other choice. The use of unrelated props in the film is amazing. The director, Andrew Leman, has worked in props and graphic arts on other films, and his talent really comes out in this movie.
The film makers went to interesting lengths to make modern day settings look 1920s.  They also went to great pains to create something Lovecraft himself would have been proud of.  The Fleur de Lis studio mentioned by Lovecraft in his writings was one of the locations of an outdoor scene.  Some unlikely materials were used to create the risen city, and a very satisfactory scene with Cthulhu himself topped it all off.

Using 1920s materials, the film makers created the god and lets the audience see him full on, which is always a thrill to Cthulhu fans. 

The only thing that took me out of the setting was that the acting techniques were more modern, and less silent film-ish.  The motions were less exaggerated.  But I think the overall effect was brilliant. At only 47 minutes running time, the movie was long enough to establish the story but short enough not to make the silent film gimmick feel forced and boring.
I think that film lovers of all kinds should watch this movie.  It is unique and made by other film lovers.  It is definitely the very best of the Lovecraft genre of movies out there.  Very impressive.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Beowulf (2007)

I avoided this movie like the plague because of all the horrendous reviews from media and from friends. I was curious to see if they were right. Occasionally, I find myself loving something that no one else I know likes (ahem…Waterworld…). I read Beowulf at some point when I was a teenager because I read anything I could get my hands on, all the time. Not enough of it stuck with me over the years for me to make a good comparison between the poem and the film but the feeling of the poem returned to me as I watched the movie.
The historical significance of the Beowulf epic is that it was long considered one of the oldest surviving texts of what is recognizable as an English language. While this is debated heatedly in some circles, the fact remains that the anonymous poem is very old, potentially from 800A.D. Here you can read a translation of it that appears to be a much better translation than the one that I read as a teenager that was very close to the original text. The bard who wrote the poem composed over 3000 lines to the hero, describing rituals, clothing, journeys, and battles.

The movie tells of how Beowulf goes to the aid of a troubled kingdom. He effortlessly puts down a creature that has been plaguing the area for several years. He is rewarded handsomely and prepares to return home with his fellow adventurers. But that is not the end of Denmark’s problems.

Never mess with a mother’s son. You can take that to heart and ask several local school employees if I’m kidding. Every little unruly monster has a mother, and that one did. And was she pissed!

Once again Beowulf is dispatched, this time with the reward of the crown and the Queen if he succeeds. And he is successful…well…he gets lucky so to speak. And all’s right with the world for years to come, until Beowulf is old and gray and the Queen he once so coveted is replaced by a little captive teenager who resembles the Queen in her younger days.

But his past comes back to haunt him, as it did for the King before him.

Beowulf, once a hero, now a deadbeat dad, an adulterer, and a man who has not lifted a sword in more than a decade, must struggle to step into the shoes of the hero once again.

Favorite Scene: When Grendel is laid to rest by his mother in the first part of the movie. I loathe Angelina Jolie on many levels, and the scene had more to do with the directing and the talent of the image generators, but I was actually in tears along with her.

The screenplay was written by Roger Avary (The Rules of Attraction, Silent Hill) and Neil Gaiman. Robert Zemeckis directed and Alan Silvestri’s score was beautiful.

The acting was beautiful, especially considering they were interacting with fluorescent colored plastic items of similar size and weight to the real thing and were wearing outfits similar to skydiving suits. Anthony Hopkins played Hrothgar, the king of Denmark who relinquishes his thrown to Beowulf. Wealthow, the Queen, is played by Robin Wright-Penn. John Malkovich plays Ureth, a very John Malkovich type character. Beowulf is played by the very busy Ray Winstone. Interesting tidbit, Ray was a very successful amateur boxer before starting his acting career. Alison Lohman plays Ursula, Beowulf’s mistress, and Angelina Jolie plays Grendel’s mother.

The movie is entirely CGI and the special features on the disc show how everything is simulated so that the actors can behave naturally enough that sometimes when you watch the finished product it’s hard to tell that it isn’t real. For example, for the feasting scene a metal egg beater with stuff stuck into it was used so that the actor could hold the beater, the size and weight of a large turkey leg, and bite down, ripping with his teeth. The room was even darkened like a cave as the actors did the motion capture for the cave scenes to give them a sense of being in a dark, confined space.

Crispin Glover, who plays Grendel, even speaks in Old English, giving Grendel a very authentic feel.

I think that people not expecting a fully CGI movie, or those unfamiliar with CGI and animation in more adult-oriented features, might have been the biggest opposition. Being a fan of anime for at least two decades, I loved it instantly. The story was typical adventure/redemption (which I’m a sucker for). It has everything: love triangles galore, sensuality, dragonslaying, intrigue, lost love, and dark secrets. The CGI gives it the epic fantasy/fairy tale feel that the story itself deserves.
I was not of the opinion that the CGI took anything away from the movie. With the writer/director team and the brilliant cast, I don’t see how it could be so hated as it seems to be, at least from those whom I hear from.
I wish people would watch the movie with an open mind and give it another chance. It was very fun and sucked me in from the start. I am a big fan of the idea of the performance capture Oscar category.